My classroom syllabus says: No legal advice questions! Yet, I still get telephone calls from students, usually when it's too late -- after they have a court date.
You know how you get one call before you are hauled off to prison? Well, I got this call from "Steve": Perry, I'm in the DeKalb County Detention Center. Get me out of here! His voice trailed off as he was pulled away by the corrections officer. Steve was charged with reckless driving -- going over 100 mph. Unfortunately, my students like to drive fast. Steve, a good student, hard worker and funny man in class, was young and had long braided hair. And he had no attorney when he went up to the judge. That is a prescription for disaster. Though I don't condone rocket speed driving, the judge gave him an excessive sentence of ten days in jail.
So I drove to the detention center, which is located along a busy street dotted with fast food joints. As I pulled up to the building, I imagined the inmates banging on their little rectangular windows demanding freedom. Or at the very least, a cheeseburger.
It was 10:00 p.m., and they only let attorneys in to see clients at that time. The problem -- Steve was not my client. And I'm not a member of the Georgia Bar. So I whipped out a yellowing Florida Bar card and two box tops from Wheaties and told the guard that Steve was my student. After going through a ton of red tape, I got to see him. They put me in a little room facing glass and brought Steve in across from me. He was handcuffed and in his orange jumpsuit. I placed the palm of my hand on the glass and spread my fingers apart, because I saw that done on the T.V. prison show Oz. Steve smiled and put his hand up to mine. I gazed at my digits mirroring his across the glass and said to myself: Hey, this T.V. hand thing actually works!
I referred him to a criminal attorney who got him out of jail after three lousy nights. If Steve had an attorney at his first hearing, he never would've seen the inside of a jail. He showed up to court on time, but committed the crimes of being young, funny, without counsel and clueless on what a judge can do -- Welcome to the legal system as I know it. A good attorney will get respect from the bench that the average citizen might not. A judge has wide discretion on sentencing and it helps to have one's own advocate.
So, to sum up: If you're in trouble, don't call me! Get a lawyer! I've seen judges walk into court late and apologize for wasting everyone's time. But if you are late to court or catch a judge in the wrong mood, you can be held in contempt, fined and even jailed.
Always remember: It's good to be the judge!
Another time, a student's mom called me to bail her daughter out of jail. "Alice" spent the night in jail for being a passenger in a reportedly stolen car. When she walked into the holding cell where I was waiting, I gave her two options.
Either I could bail you out now...
Yes, YES, let's go!
Or... (as I reached into my briefcase and pulled out some papers) ... you can take the midterm exam you missed last week.
Get me the freak outta here!
Always remember: It's good to be the Prof Man!
Today's Takeaway: Go to class and stay off the road. Don't even get me started on TWD - Texting While Driving.
Excerpt from Perry's book, Unlocking Your Rubber Room: 44 Off-the-Wall Lessons. Follow Perry on Twitter @Perry_Binder and join his Facebook Group.